Sports vs. Morals

By Lauren Vincent

I’ve found a mixed bag of reactions to the firing of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno floating around my Facebook and Twitter feeds in the past week. I have to say I was pretty disappointed in some of the things I’ve heard, which were eerily similar to the foolish opinion that Ashton Kutcher broadcasted on his own Twitter.

Courtesy live.psu.edu

“How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye fan I find it in poor taste,” Kutcher tweeted last Wednesday. He subsequently handed over control of his Twitter account to someone else after “realizing it was in poor taste,” or in reality being told that he’s a total idiot by fans. Or so I would hope.

Our society has a sickening tendency to cut sports figures a tremendous amount of slack for even the most lowly actions. For those of you who aren’t caught up, Paterno and several other members of the Penn State administration were informed that defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had sexually assaulted at least one child. Instead of doing what any person with even the slightest sense of morality would do, which is report it to the police and prevent children from suffering, Paterno and his cohorts looked the other way.

In the case that this was a child – a 10-year-old boy – the uproar was loud, and the reaction of Penn State and the Pennsylvania State police force was exactly as it should have been to fire all those who participated in covering up a sex offender. His name has been removed from the Big Ten championship trophy, prompting its name to be changed to the Stagg Championship trophy. None of this should be any great victory, but I can say that I didn’t cringe in anticipation that the whole thing would be forgotten the way allegations toward basketball player Kobe Bryant and football player Ben Roethlisberger have been swept under the rug.

However, in the past week I’ve overheard conversations and status updates glorifying Paterno. Most of them acknowledge that what he did was wrong, but to what extent can you still admire a human being while knowing that they did something so heinous? He was a great coach, no one can deny that. But can you really look past letting a child rapist roam free because he won a championship?

Why do we feel that winning is more important than protecting women and children? Why do we rush to the defense of these figures, people we don’t even know, and insult their accusers for even suggesting our heroes would do something terrible?

According to a poll by ESPN.com, 51 percent of Americans believe firing Paterno was the correct decision. Too slim of a majority, if you ask me, but even worse, a survey of only Pennsylvania residents resulted in 45 percent believing firing Paterno was wrong.

Maybe these people missed the whole story or haven’t been paying close enough attention – that’s what I’ll believe so I can still have faith in humanity. But it could very well be that people are too closely attached to sports figures to realize that the mistakes and crimes they’ve committed have been far too grave to simply ignore.

Bryant, for instance, was accused of sexually assaulting a woman while staying at a hotel where she worked in 2004. The high-profile case was eventually dismissed when the woman decided not continue with the charges, saying that she had been under enormous pressure. She endured at least two death threats, not to mention the constant media attention during a time she should have been allowed to heal. Our justice system and sense of values is seriously flawed when we don’t even allow a trial to take place based on our love for a man we don’t even know based on his ability to throw a ball in a basket. What are we teaching about the consequences of hurting other people?

Don’t get me wrong, I like sports, and I get that winning is important. Sports give us a sense of community and pride. Nothing can touch the feeling when your team wins a championship and celebrations ensue. But sports can and will continue without those people who don’t know how to use their moral judgment. Let’s hope as fans we can use ours to weed out those who are only good on the field, but cruel and heartless off of it.

Lauren Vincent is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]